We face many challenges when we move to another country, and for some people, food can be the toughest thing to deal with when living abroad. That remains true even in western countries, were food (I mean daily food here) is becoming more an utility than a reflex of a cultural lifestyle. I’ve realized that, in Europe, while in Norway or Switzerland, two of the countries I’m more familiarized with, I very seldom see their national foods on people’s tables, except on special dates. Daily food can be everything – mexican, thai, indian, middle-eastern, chinese, japanese – but national. And this not to mention the rituals of eating – more on that later.
Coming from a non-western country, where making food is a task that actually consumes more of time, or a country in transition such as Brazil, where one is not so exposed to foreign style of preparing food, probably the challenge is even bigger.
In Brazil, we grow up with our mom, or grandmother, or a maid, preparing food for us – an activity that takes 2-3 hours (sometimes less) of their lives. The country is being modernized, in the sense that this is not an enduring reality anymore, though still present there. But our generation got accostumed to eat the country’s traditional food (in Brazil that would mean rice and beans EVERY SINGLE DAY OF ONE’S LIFE), something that takes longer to prepare than your average frozen pizza. Then, when we don’t find it on our homes, we look for it elsewhere. Please, mind that I’m talking about a country that is constantly changing its habits, and by no means is homogeneous. But I bet that the average Brazilian will look for rice and beans at least 2-3 times a week when he/she eats outside.
And meat… no Brazilian eats without a small piece of meat on his plate – except, of course, if meat is absolutely incompatible with the dish du jour.
And to make it all more complicate, our main meal is exactly at 12h (this is slowly changing in bigger cities, towards a later time). For many families, this is their single and only warm meal throughout a day, being common to replace dinner or supper with the same stuff one eats for breakfast, though it’s also common to eat the leftovers from lunch.
I’ve seen that this is a bit incompatible with life in Norway. The main factor, of course, is the price. Food is expensive in Norway like no other thing. Eating meat everyday is not easy here, and meals tend to be simpler. Eating outside is not always an option, maybe because not that many people eat their warm meals at lunch outside everyday, so prices are higher. Actually, few actually eat warm meals at lunch, which brings another problem…
I need my warm meal at midday. I don’t like dinners – never liked them. I always feel better when eating lighter at night, it gives me the sensation that I’m taking a better care of myself. Sushi is my exception, though.
Here, with Mrs. G, it’s being a bit of an arm wrestling with The Girl, as she comes from a daily life where, just like in Norway, one has a quick break to eat something, and the main dish would be on dinner (did I get it right, G.?). So we’ve tried so far to come to a compromise on that, though it ends up we eating what we want, when we want.
But I’m starting to make something in between – whenever I can, I make some quick food – rice or potatoes, fish, chicken or meat – while having breakfast, so I can warm it up later at work. I like the healthy way Norwegians do with their knekkebrød and matpakke, not eating a lot at lunch. I’ve tried it, and it works on some days. But on others, for someone who starts the day kinda early, I need substantial food at lunch time. I prefer to leave something lighter for nighttime.
And… guess what? I’ve found nice beans, I’ve found palm oil, I can replicate many of the Brazilian dishes I’m used to. Some stuff, such as farinha de mandioca or linguiça calabresa are hard to find, but that doesn’t stop me.
I’m proud to say that I’ve cooked my first “feijão” (beans) here. I used to cook for myself every other day in Brazil (and ate outside or at relatives on the other days), but I never dared to make the most sacred dish of a Brazilian family. Feijão is so important there that a quality of a cook is often judged by how their feijão tastes. And there’s not much an objective way to judge “feijão” – it’s personal, just like we see at the end of the Ratatouille cartoon, when the food critic experiments the food and it brings him some feelings and memories from his childhood. Feijão, albeit simple to prepare and with not that many ingredients, seem to carry with it some sort of alchemy that only the initiated can make properly and receive appraisals from those who eat it.
I feel like an initiated, as I made it quite good (even if not exactly how one would do it over there)… 😉 Gonna cook some for mrs., and maybe that can be something to be eaten almost everyday here… or not! 🙂 Actually, I didn’t eat feijão everyday in Brazil – it’s kinda heavy to do so. But, for the sake of nostalgy, I kinda want to eat it more often here. It makes me feel more at home and not so distant from everything that once I was surrounded with and that has made me, for the better or for the worse, what I am now.